John Badham’s “Dracula” (significantly altered from the original title, “Dracula, a Love Story” in it’s initial test screenings) is the product of a lack of point-of-view when dealing with material that is overly familiar to the public, to the point where every invention of lore and legacy is impressed upon the imagination of even those not particularly interested in vampires or horror films in general. It’s remarkable how acutely universal the details of vampiric lore, as blueprinted in Bram Stoker’s epistolary novel, has penetrated the public consciousness, and this universality of acquaintanceship is both a blessing and a curse for film makers; the former, as it demands less of original thinking and offers the comfort of preconceived expectations, and the former as the over-familiarity of those expectations demand more original thinking to offset the stale predictability of traditional expectations.
Within this creative Catch-22, director Badham and his scenarist W.D. Richter often appear paralyzed in a quagmire of indecisiveness in which direction the film should travel.
The film, inspired by a popular Broadway revival of the creaky stage adaptation by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston, which overcame its wearisome concession to reducing the intense horror sequences of the novel into an arid drawing room melodrama through an ingenious production design tailored by illustrator/author Edward Gorey and an overt conversion of the title character from a mysterious supernatural monster into a magnetic Gothic seducer by the fortuitous casting of Frank Langella. Granting the nature of cinematic design, Gorey’s contributions were predictably the first thing to go, though with the retention of the stage play’s fundamental revision of the bloodsucker as paramour (a rather natural ascension from Stoker’s female character’s surrender to the Count as a symbol of the woman’s rejection of the conformity to Victorian sexual inhibitions), an evolutionary step which is more inclined to be attributable to the signatory heaving bosoms of Hammer Films than representations of romance in the source novel.
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